New initiative could bring smartphones to the unconnected billions

New initiative could bring smartphones to the unconnected billions

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development and telecoms giant Vodafone have got together to urge action to connect 3.4 billion people with smartphones by 2030.

For this initiative, the Vodafone Group and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are co-chairs via a dedicated working group under the auspices of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development. The Commission was launched by the ITU and UNESCO in 2010 to bridge the digital divide and bring the goal of universal broadband connectivity to the forefront of policy discussions.

The participants in the initiative point out that of the world's 3.7 billion people not connected to the internet, 3.4 billion live within range of mobile networks but are currently not accessing the internet, partly due to a lack of smartphone ownership.

As they also argue, the effect of the pandemic on accelerated use of digital public services, and the need for digital skills for work have made mobile internet access through a smartphone more important than ever.

Mobile accounts for 86 percent of connections to the internet in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), underlining the importance of mobile in addressing this issue. The aim of the initiative is therefore that an additional 3.4 billion people will eventually have the ability to access and use the internet through a smartphone by 2030.

In line with the Broadband Commission Global Targets 2025 on affordability and connectivity, the new working group will identify policy, commercial and circular-economy interventions to increase smartphone access.

The group is co-chaired by Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read, and ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. Launch partners also include the Alliance for Affordable Internet, the GSMA, the government of Ghana, Safaricom, Smart Africa, Vodacom Group, and the World Wide Web Foundation.

The Broadband Commission Working Group will produce a report and set of concrete recommendations including original analysis and data on the smartphone access gap, and quantification of the social and economic impact of providing everyone with smartphone access by 2030 – including an assessment of moving users from 2G feature phones to 4G smartphones.

There will also be an analysis of initiatives or pilots designed to increase smartphone access. Vodafone Group has committed to launch two pilot projects on device affordability as part of this process.

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